RALEIGH, N.C. - The Big Apple is considered the center of the basketball world by many and, although it's not as true on the girl's side of the sport, upstate New York tends to get short-shrifted, in terms of notoriety. That changes this year, however, because of a player, Shenise Johnson of Rush-Henrietta High School in Henrietta, N.Y., who is just too good to go unnoticed.
In fact, it's not going too far on a limb to say the 5-foot-11 guard is one of the top players in the 2008 class. We can hear the chorus all the way from the Rochester area, saying, "We told ya." But we had to see it for ourselves.
And what we saw is a player with a unique combination of size, strength and shake. Rush is big and physical and can just as soon plant a defender on the block as cross her over and explode to the cup. In a lot of ways, she is the Eastern version of Jasmine Dixon, the 6-1 Long Beach Poly guard ranked No. 4 in the 2008 class by HoopGurlz.com. She seems to love contact and has a variety of ways to make plays in response to it.
We didn't see much perimeter shooting from Johnson, mostly because she didn't need it - though she doesn't follow through on short pull-ups in the lane. However, she does have the strength and vision to make tough passes in traffic, off penetration. Whether she is a point guard could be a question, though few coaches will resist if she insists on playing that position.
The true point guard, and one of this weekend's big revelations, is Johnson's SRAP teammate, Tyler Ash. The Liverpool, N.Y., guard stands 6 feet 2, giving her unique vision. And she definitely sees plays many others do not and has the gumption to try executing them. What's more, Ash obviously likes to distribute and is selfish, sometimes to a fault.
Ash also hit three-points, blocked shots and boarded. She averaged Magic Johnson-like 11 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and three steals for Liverpool and appears to be the kind of player who could impact the evolution of the women's game.
Main Bracket Play
The final four of the 17U Sponsored Division includes Finest Basketball Club (FBC) with Jasmine Dixon and Nikki Speed against Cincinnati's Finest with recent Tennessee commit Amber Gray in one semi and the Rhode Island Breakers with 6-5 Heather Buck, who's actually from Stonington, Conn., against Blue Chip Elite of Louisville, Ky., in the other.
Exodus squandered control, careening down a turnover-strewn stretch, allowing Ashley Thomas of Loyola Academy to tie the game with a pair of free throws with just 0.1 seconds remaining. Prahalis gave Exodus a 61-60 lead with an explosive drive with 16 seconds left in the first overtime, but Maggie Moocchi tied the game by hitting a foul shot with four seconds to play. Thomas drew a foul on the first possession of the sudden-death second overtime and hit the free throw for the win.
The defending tournament champs, FBC, are loaded again, especially with the impressive all-around play of UCLA commit Rebekah Gardner, a 6-1 wing out of Ayala High School in Fontana, Calif. However, their hopes may hinge on the left knee of their best player, Dixon, who injured the joint during her team's 58-41 victory over the Minnesota Stars on Saturday night.
The Emerald City Legends, which have dedicated this tournament to leader Carly Stowell, who died at the team hotel on Thursday night, won their second and third straight games on Saturday and will play Indiana's Finest in the semifinal of the 15U Select Division on Sunday morning. The Legends beat the Wake Forest Wizards
Gray and Johnson tangle